“Balinese women can’t progress by force”

A conversation with Laksmi Dewi Made, director of the Mahadaya Institute.

The rainy season has just started in Bali when Laksmi Dewi Made expects us in her house in Denpasar on an early Friday morning. After a heavy downpour and a few attempts to figure out the Google maps directions to her property at the outskirts of Bali’s capital, we’re welcomed with three different choices of chocolate bread and a hot ginger tea.

Laksmi politely excuses herself for a few minutes to finish her online call before she joins us and immediately starts sharing her life story and how she ended up being the director of the Mahadaya Institute. Under the guidance of meditation teacher Setyo Hajar Dewantoro the organization offers books, workshops and meditation sessions to the mostly Indonesian public with the goal of developing holistic self-development.

Laksmi Dewi Made (✍️ by Kazuaki Senno).

Covid-19 asks us to go back to pure living

Before we get into the depth of our dialogue, we first tackle the current Covid-19 situation on the island. Her personal opinion is influenced by her business partner and spiritual teacher Dewantoro who sent a message as early as January 2020 saying “the virus isn’t so dangerous as long as you strengthen your immune system and live a happy and healthy life”. The message inspired her to go on a week of contemplation to Myanmar where she felt even more strongly that

“the world is asking us, humans, to go back to the originality of pure living”.

When she returned back to Bali in March, the pandemic had hit the island causing schools to close and people to stay at home. Like everyone else she bought hand sanitiser and started wearing a mask. But that didn’t last long. “After three days I thought ‘what am I doing?’. I should upgrade my vibration, live happily so the virus won’t attack me”, she says with a soft voice. She decided to take her daughter out for a walk to a park in order to get rid of the worries, even though public areas were closed off to the public to prevent the virus from spreading. When they arrived at a field that was sealed with yellow police tape, the security guard decided to let them through to enjoy nature. She took it as a signal of good vibrations and felt it was the right gesture.

Finding your true self

Lakshmi’s life looked very different before she came to Bali. She worked as a flight attendant for 25 years, living in Jakarta from where she flew around the world. Her work brought her touch with people from all different backgrounds and connecting with some of them in a special way. During our conversation, she often repeats how everything she does happens naturally, not by force. It was again a ‘calling’ as she describes it when she met a Balinese colleague with breast cancer during one of her flights several years ago. From that encounter, she set up a foundation together with relatives to assist women with cancer in Bali. She’d heard of support groups on her travels to Europe, Australia and Japan but a collective system of aid in Bali didn’t exist yet. All her salary went to the charity to empower people with cancer which she describes as ‘her child’. The initiative evolved into an organization with doctors visiting remote villages and high schools to educate the people and offer free diagnosis.

Eleven years ago Lakshmi’s project was taken over by a larger foundation which gave her the opportunity to focus fully on her work for the Mahadaya Institute. It was around that time that she adopted her daughter Kaya and she felt her interest shifting towards child psychology. She chose to study hypnosis, reiki, meditation, yoga and QiGong to maintain her own health and as part of her spiritual calling. For the institute, she’s now conducting camps where children learn how to be in tune with nature. The philosophy of the organization is based on the idea of our inheritance of both our mother’s and our father’s genes, including those of our grandparents and great-grandparents and how to find your true self within the belief system you grew up in. It’s a journey Laksmi had to discover for herself as well and the path led her to the videos of her current business partner Dewantoro who first became her spiritual teacher. She explains:

“It felt like his mission is my mission and I wanted to support him in the institute.”

Being an exception in Jakarta

The process of Laksmi’s self-development took off after her Javanese mother passed away and she had a calling to go to Bali to accompany her Balinese father who’d moved there with her mother a year before. Her parents had raised her as the middle child of the family in Jakarta where Hindus are a minority and where she and her sisters were an exception in high school amongst 400 other students. She wasn’t strongly connected to Balinese culture and traditions when she moved to the island, although she says it’s in her DNA because their family home in the country’s capital did have a meditation room for praying and they’d visit the temple for ceremonies regularly.

Lakshmi has been interested in spirituality since she was a kid, asking existential questions about why she’s born and why her parents are her parents. She became aware of her childhood trauma of being the second child, often overlooked by her parents who put most of their attention on her older sister to become an example for her and her younger sibling.

She sits cross-legged in her armchair wearing a comfortable black and white outfit, under the surveillance of Gandhi who looks at us from a small side table in the nicely decorated living room and continues, with her eyes closed:

“Parents often push children in doing something that isn’t necessarily altruistic or authentic. For example, in the norms, they teach you how to behave, how to be polite. Or in the comparison with other people or older siblings, where they expect you to act the same. It created jealousy inside of me towards my sister because I never felt as good as her. The expectations projected on me by my parents caused an internalized stigma of dishonesty, realizing that it was safer for me not to be open and be who I am. Although I understand the situation my parents were in and the fact that they probably acted from what they believed was love.”

There is so much love coming from outside of Bali

In Bali, she experiences that same projection and force on a community level. She continues: “The outside of the Balinese traditions for example is beautiful, the dancings, the offerings, the connection with nature, but I want to strengthen the understanding of the tradition from the inside. I always question why people are doing certain things and I’ve noticed there is a lack of a deeper understanding of what our ancestors taught us through generations. The rise of the tourism industry in Bali caused the creation of a beautiful house where the people inside are fighting. Ceremonies have turned into events focusing on outward attention, based on greediness and materialism. I don’t have the power to change something from the outside, but I have the heart to help another heart and make people understand from the inside.”

She points out the fear of the Balinese towards influences from outside:

“There is so much love coming from outside of Bali but there is a disconnect between the locals and foreigners which makes the Balinese feel inferior and think everything from the outside is always good. The foreigners just take pictures of the religious rituals as an object of entertainment instead of getting empowered by them. The language barrier is part of the ignorance, combined with the Balinese being afraid of their traditions getting destroyed.”

It is one of the reasons why Balinese are known for being ‘quite closed’ or ‘not much open to outsiders’ as Laksmi put it, even though she herself has always felt accepted because of her Balinese father. “It would be different if I would have been Muslim”. And she’s also aware of the fact that her life is easier compared to the average Balinese woman because she doesn’t have the responsibilities that come with married life. “Balinese husbands usually are busy working which makes that the women need to take care of everything else, including the preparations for the daily rituals and ceremonies. I have no burden of that because I live alone with my daughter”, she says while taking a sip of her ginger tea and adds: “I wish more Balinese women would be tougher and act more out of love instead of force. We as women need to strengthen that love. Also for Balinese women, who can’t progress by force.”

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